Round One – Phillip Island
Free Practice One
With Chris Plumridge
Ducati’s Scott Redding has had the ideal start to his Motul FIM Superbike World Championship career, with the 2019 British Superbike Champion fastest out of the blocks in the first Free Practice session of the Yamaha Finance Round from Phillip Island.
After overnight rain had provided damp but drying conditions for the morning ASBK sessions at the Island, the heavens opened 15 minutes before the first World Superbike practice session. The result was that both the track and the hardy punters keen for their first dose of WSBK action for the weekend ended up completely soaked. Ten minutes later and the sun was shining, but the track was still very damp and it would be up to the riders and teams to weigh up the risks of extra track time versus binning it before the weekend truly got underway.
Honda’s Alvaro Bautista was first to brave the conditions, keen to continue his development of the new Fireblade and get the relationship off to a good start after moving from Aruba.IT Ducati last year. Jonathan Rea was not far behind, out to match his rival in getting some track times while their rivals sat in their leathers and waited for the weather to clear.
Federico Caricasulo (PATA Yamaha) joined the fray not long after with Xavi Fores (Kawasaki Pucetti Racing) and MaximillianScheib (ORELAC Racing Kawasaki) also out on track. Just under 40 minutes to go and the spray trails got longer and longer as the rain worsened, with the BMW of Eugene Laverty and the MIE Honda of Takumi Takahashi finally giving in and getting out there.
Rea seemed to be the only rider really willing to push his equipment as he slithered around the Phillip Island layout, Rea’s rivals almost two seconds outside his 1:43.323 best.
Takahashi, having only just emerged from had an electronic component dangling by a wire behind the motorcycle. It finally parted company soon after, and Takahashi was stopped by the side of the road, rejoining soon after.
Frenchman Loris Baz (Ten Kate Yamaha) has consistently impressed in testing, the independent rider faster than his more fancied factory opposition. He catapulted himself to second with a 1:45.292 with 23 minutes to go. Rea’s time from earlier still stood, and the conditions were no worse, but no better, than what Rea had experienced early in the session so it was a surprise that many were still hesitant to match the Northern Irishman’s pace in the 1:43s.
With talk of slicks permeating the pitlane Tom Sykes finally showed what the BMW is capable of, lowering the mark to 1:43.290, Rea still second quickest. However with a number of ‘rivers’ of standing water in many places nobody was keen to take the gamble just yet. Baz then brought the mark down futher, 1:42.345 the best so far with Redding, Camier, Davies, Cortese, Rinaldi, Lowes, Razgatlioglu and van der Mark all yet to set a time with twenty minutes left in the session.
Scott Redding (Aruba.IT Ducati) was closing the gap to Baz at the front, his 1:42.553 only a tenth short of Baz. Ex-Motoamerica star Garret Gerloff was acquitting himself admirably for his first session in the wet on a World Superbike, sitting in sixth (1:43.998) ahead of Bautista, Scheib, and Leon Haslam (HRC).Redding’s next lap finally took him to the top of the timesheets, 1:41.479 six tenths up on Baz with four minutes to go.
With most riders having found what they needed many riders opted to sit out the last part of the session, with Chaz Davies (Aruba.IT Ducati) the only rider to emerge of the ones having not yet set a time- he was straight back in the pitlane.
The order at the chequered flag was Redding, Baz, Haslam, Lowes, Sykes and Rea. The World Superbikes will have their second practice session this afternoon (Friday) at 1500.
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